Between Monsters and Marvels

Between Monsters and Marvels
Age Range
Release Date
September 12, 2023
Buy This Book
A standalone high-stakes middle grade fantasy by Alysa Wishingrad, author of the Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection The Verdigris Pawn.
Monsters are still lurking on Barrow’s Bay.
Dare Coates is sure of it. No drifter or ruffian could have killed her father, the Captain of the Guard, while he was on patrol. But everyone insists that monsters have been gone for years now. Dare’s mother. Her classmates. Even the governor, who swiftly marries her mother just months after her father’s death.

Dare’s suspicions grow even stronger when the governor suddenly ships her off to the mainland, away from any hope of uncovering the truth about her father’s death.

Or so she thinks. Soon Dare finds solid proof that monsters still exist and she starts to question everything she’s always known. Was her father who she thought he was? Who can she trust? Where is the line between good and evil?

The truth hides behind danger and deception. But with the help of an unlikely crew of cohorts and a stray beastie, nothing can stop Dare from finding out what happened to her father and exposing who the real monsters are.

Perfect for fans of Ellen Oh’s Spirit Hunters and Lauren Oliver’s The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street.  

Editor review

1 review
A young girl fights for what's right
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
What worked:
The author creates a wonderful underdog story as a young girl is determined to uncover the truth behind monsters and her father’s death. Dare is incessantly teased and ridiculed at school but she draws a line when insults are directed toward her father. She views herself as an awful person and that emotion is emphasized in the book’s opening pages. Dare resists any attempts to transform her into a proper girl and her awfulness really rears its ugly head when she’s angry. She’s sent away from Barrow’s Bay where the privileged citizens live and she ends up on the mainland where she lives among the impoverished, filth, pollution, and crime. Strange that she forms two strong friendships there.
The plot becomes a bit of a mystery when Dare discovers monsters are more common than she thought plus other characters share information about her father that doesn’t match her memories of him. She thinks all monsters should be killed until they’re extinct but she learns others have contrasting thoughts about the existence of monsters. Some people, like Dare, think they are dangerous, vile monsters while others see these creatures as marvels. Dare’s feelings are a result of her upbringing and she’s never considered the possibility that the knowledge she has learned might be flawed. The monsters versus marvels conflict becomes the main focus of the plot and the author saves many surprises for later.
The author presents a cast of puzzling characters to develop more mystery and keep readers thinking. Gil is a boy who pops up whenever Dare needs help but she doesn’t believe anyone shows kindness without a reason. The book’s ending lends a curious twist to his character. Padgett, the owner of a popular theater, provides Dare with money and information about her father but she’s surprised to learn part of Padgett’s story is a lie. Nell is a young, popular performer in Padgett’s show but she becomes one of Dare’s closest allies. She helps with investigating the disappearance of Dare’s pet “chinchilla” and her fame and charm are valuable assets. However, Nell’s mother (Dare thinks of her as Foghorn) is a whole other story.
What didn’t work as well:
I hesitate to write in this section because the problem is in my own mind. Gil’s character always manages to come to Dare’s rescue before he goes off somewhere unknown. His character is quite compelling but there’s always a shroud of mystery surrounding him. The mystery is revealed in the end and I curse myself for not paying close enough attention to the clues along the way.
The Final Verdict:
Readers can form analogies between this story and the real world. The rich and powerful often control the narrative concerning issues so their lies may seem to be the truth. Rules don’t apply to them until someone refuses to let injustices go unchecked. Young readers will enjoy Dare’s character and her intriguing battle against influential people and politicians performing shady, loathsome atrocities. Overall, I highly recommend you give this book a shot!
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